Staying Relevant in a Technology World! – Editorial

“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.”
–Stewart Brand

This is one of those podcasts which isn’t the offspring of late night research, countless hours of trial and error tempered by seminars, articles and other people podcasts. This one is coming from real life… whatever that means.

This one is coming from real life… whatever that means.

If you’ve found yourself working in the technology arena it can be as exciting as it is challenging. Sometimes these are one and the same and sometimes they could not be farther apart. Being a GenXr myself I was there at the beginning of the home computing boom. I remember the rise of Steve Jobs, and when Bill Gates was the young genius instead of Mark Zuckerberg except of course when he famously said “640k is all the memory anyone will ever need” or words to that effect. Ok fine he didn’t say that but, thanks to the post-truth world I think it’s probably perfectly ok to attribute that statement to him or anyone else for that matter. Even better if you turn it into a meme!

Getting back to the 80s and 90s when technology was “young” and when air-quotes were first invented (I was thinking some as I typed “young”). Back then I learn to program in C language, I could disassemble my PC and fix it myself, even over-clock the CPU to get more gusto from it and I was building linux kernel I got from Linus Torvalds (the OS namesake) himself because that was the only place you could get it. I will return to Linus as a flagship example of staying relevant in the technological age as he one of the most influential people in our technological era.

Let’s talk about that era. We are currently in a phase of advancement which is to say the least, complex. It extremely difficult to be the polymath (aka renaissance man) that used to be possible. The term renaissance man goes back to… well you guessed it.. the renaissance and especially to Leonardo da Vinci.  The quintessential polymath with interests and expertise in … invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography… to name a few.

To be considered an expert in such a diverse breadth of subject matter now would be considerably difficult. I promise that will be my biggest understatement. Technology is no different. Even my podcast who’s intention is the simplification of technological concepts could potentially run for a century without making any real dent in the number of possible subjects it could cover. A far cry from when I started out in computing and was considered, quite good at all things computers.

So what happened? Why did it suddenly go boom and we went from home made computers with 640k to a phone that can play my entire music collection, keep me connected to friend in real-time, track my fitness while simultaneously mine for bitcoins.

Moore's LawTechies will know what I mean when I say Moore’s Law. Gordon Moore was a founder of Intel who stated, observed and predicted that the number of transistors per square inch would double every year if technological advancements continued. As it happened he was wrong! It was more like 1.5 years but nevertheless it means… roughly put that all of the technology from the beginning of transistors until 2007 is what it took to make the first iPhone. That phone was like Star Wars or perhaps the Matrix. It was a groundbreaking piece of tech and the first real user friendly smartphone (arguably). Touch screens of that quality and responsiveness weren’t even in our imaginations only a few years before. Now consider Moore’s Law. In 18 months we’ll double our capacity for technology. Sure enough if we compare the original iPhone to the iPhone 4 which was released 3 years (and 2 cycles of Moore’s Law) later we have approximate 4 times the tech in terms of memory capacity, screen and performance.

Going back to being a programming in the 90s I remember optimising code into assembly in order to get the peak performance given the hardware we had. Software’s capabilities were limited by the platform upon which it ran. Now, software design methodologies have changed radically. Hardware has surpassed software to a point where you can order a super-computer from a number of Cloud computer services in few seconds. Software architecture is switching from single monolithic applications to small simplified service based components (micro-services) which pass information between to each a greater purpose. Gone are the days of communication bandwidth issues, processing and memory limitations and even geographical constraints.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are trending twitter topics instead of sci-fi film subjects.

The world is changing faster and faster. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are trending twitter topics instead of sci-fi film subjects. An impressive amount of technology runs our world and an ever growing number of people have no idea how an of it works. It’s simply taken for granted.

So… for those of us who love the tech. The geeks… how on earth can we keep up? Being a polymath would require us to be independently wealthly so we be on permanent study, or, infinitely smart (ideally both). I recently heard Nick Szabos, the BitCoin entrepreneur and BlockChain technology founder referred to as a polymath. I don’t doubt it. He has the pre-requisites but it is a rare state of being.

I recently heard Nick Szabos, the BitCoin entrepreneur and BlockChain technology founder referred to as a polymath.

Vitalik Buterin

Ethereum Smart-guy Vitalik Buterin

Let’s consider the normal developer for a moment though. I have plenty of developer friends in their 20s who are head down in coding and loving it. The can code up a pretty feature rich application in a very short amount of time in their chosen language/framework and they can certainly do it better than I can. However… where will they be in 20 years.

When I started in C and C++ I was coding for 10 years before a new language with any credence emerged. That was Java. Even Java took another 10 before it was really taken seriously. Now, I see development teams flipping from C# to Java to NodeJS to Go with 2 years. The best coder might not be the 20 year veteran but might be a 16 year old kid. In fact software technologies are changing so quickly that an industry guru can be crafted in as little as 4 years. Take a look at Ethereum entrepreneur Vitalek Buterin who at the age of just 19 introduced the blockChain technology based Ethereum network building on the work of the mysterious Japanese sounding Satoshi Nakamoto’s bitCoin legacy. All that said… and just as quickly, an experienced developer can become a dinosaur.

My personal struggle has been a factor of location, interest and curiosity which can at times combine to shoot you right in the foot. Sometimes job selection, opportunity, and even corporate disfunction can stear your career path in directions you might never expect. My direction has been driven at times by redundancies as a result of corporate level irrelevance but that again is a whole other podcast.

Relevancy is key to happiness.

Skipping to the end… how do we stay relevant. Relevancy is key to happiness. If you’ve ever heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs , you’ll know it’s a rough guide to happiness.  A top 5 checklist for life with basics like air, water and other physiological requirements at number 1. If you’re in a 1st world, these are taken for granted. Consider yourself lucky!  Closely following behind those basics are things like belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualisation.  Essentially, feeling useful.

So how can we achieve such relevance over the years of technological and personal changes?

Here’s your faithful podcasters list of ways to keep staying on top of our game, staying relevant and hey, potentially even carve ourselves an essential position in the market.

1. Read more. Books! Less Fifty Shades and more The Trousers of Reality (Barry Evans). Upgrading your perspective by reading others has expanding my thinking and broadened my interests. It had created a habit of buying books and reading several at the same time, meaning it takes me ages to finish any single one but I generally get there. My recent read is The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins from 1976! I heard it recommended on a Podcast! Reading not only sparks my creative side, it improves my vocabulary… I talk about soft skills in a moment.

2. Podcasts! I can highly recommend putting a bit of time into surfing through the iTunes podcast lists, the Podbean or Libsyn or Stitcher apps, and using keywords to build a small collection of podcasts that are relevant to your interests. Personally I love the Cyberwire, TEDx Radio, How I Build This (An NPR Podcast), The Bugle (comedy) and the Comedians Comedian (docu-comedy) and any number of interview based podcasts like Gary McGraw’s Silver Bullet, London Real or Joe Rogan. I’ve curated my list by downloading a single episode from a large group of potential podcasts and within a few minutes of listening to each you’ll know if the delivery, vibe and subject matter works for you. If it does then subscribe and move on to the next one. I think you’ll find that only a few podcasts really float your boat even if a lot look like they fit the bill from a subject matter perspective. Hopefully if you’re listening to this podcast, it fits the bill! Hooray!

3. Learn… courses can be both beneficial but also free. Many employers have a budget which translates to a tax write-off to send staff for training. Quite often this budget goes over-looked so a simple query might reveal there is money going to send you on a NodeJS bootcamp or perhaps on course that can add a valuable certification to your credit. I written a podcast specifically about security certifications like CISSP and frankly, it can be a confusion world of acronyms and “non-profit” certification bodies but regardless of the choice, whacking a few letters onto the end of your name never fails to impress people and pretty much everyone can learn something from a course that brings new life to the job, OR, opens doors to new ones. That brings us to number 4.

4 Don’t settle. You don’t have to hate your job. We live in a culture where we are expected to breath a sigh of despair as we have to go to work and how we do anything to get away from work. An earth-shattering mid-life crisis is well fed by this approach. I know many people who have settled into a “career” that is quickly becoming a job almost without them realising it. When the excitement of a new employment goes and the scary learning curve has been completely, there is a sense of relief in feeling you made it and are now doing a good job. However, it’s a slippery slope to a complacent existence that will come back to haunt you. Chris Rock did a great job of defining the separation between a career from a job. “What you got a career, there ain’t enough time in the day”, “when you got a job… there’s too much time”.

4b. Lateral job movement. This probably feels counter productive sometimes but it can be a liberating and low-risk way to shake up your career, spark a new interest in your work place without the difficulty and stress of looking for an entirely new employer. If you’re stagnating in your role but like your employer this can be an invigorating shift. Most employers value honesty and are happy for employees they may risk losing to move into a new role if it means it saves them on recruitment and keeps you productive and learning.

5. Money doesn’t by happiness. The Beatles said it can’t buy you love but I think that one’s debatable. I had a job that paid 6 figures and I worked 80+ hour weeks. I justified it because it paid well so… that was the expectation. I ended up leaving it to work at a job that paid half of that amount just to get my life back, see friends and family and feel like I was in control for once. I then realised it also afforded me the time to re-educate, and research new job opportunities in my own time and tailor my career path to my exact requirements. When I wasn’t sure what my new path should be, I took time to really dig into myself and ask hard questions about what I really loved doing and it paid off in the long run. Believe me dropping my pay by 50% wasn’t cool. I could barely pay the rent and had to really change my lifestyle but it was so worth it.

6. Improve your soft skills. There was a time I didn’t even know what “soft skills” meant. I get it now. It turns out that while knowing a lot of technological stuff is great and can score you a pretty good job, being able to talk good and junk about it can open doors you didn’t know existed. It will mean you interview better, it’ll mean you communicate management and your peers better and you might even do pretty well at the bar when you’re individual of interest about that sexy new cyber security threat.

Many major companies offer presentation courses to hone not just your powerpoint skills but also improve your confidence with delivery. I’ve done one of these when I was with Motorola where you could present anything you wanted in 5 minutes and they filmed you. It was painful to watch but I learned so much about myself. I can also recommend a group called Toast Masters. They are a global organisation of people like us who are looking for a safe haven to improve your soft skills via public speaking. It can be a ton of fun and a great way to expand your friend circle (your real life friend circle not the Facebook one).

So there we have it.  Reading, listening and learning to start things off right followed closely by careful self-analysis to establish what you want.  Don’t settle, don’t do it for the money, do it for you.  Finally, make sure you can articulate those desires, skills and talents concisely and perhaps even charismatically.  New doors will start to open to exciting technological roles you never knew possible.

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About The Author

I'm been in technology since the Atari 600 computer crossed my path and I patiently (for 3 hours) typed in a BASIC helicopter video game from "Games" magazine until a power cut wiped it out in a blink. I was hooked! Technology needed improving and I was determined to help.